Buddhism Final Exam

RLST 220 Final Exam, Vered Arnon

Part I.

Huan-yen Buddhism’s P’an-chiao system is based on the claims of Fa-Tsang. It puts Hinayana at the bottom, then Madhyamaka, because they are considered partially true. T’ien-t’ai is put above those two, it corrects the problem of Madhyamaka’s focus on emptiness. Zen is placed after that, because it provides focus on practice that T’ien-t’ai lacks. Hua-yen is at the top of the hierarchy, because Fa-Tsang viewed it as balanced, focusing on the whole truth without losing balance by overemphasising one thing or another. This shows that the Hua-yen school sees absolute truth as final corrective measures to find balanced emphasis among doctrine and practise. T’ien-t’ai’s P’an-chiao system is based on the claims of Chih-i. He organises it in the form of “5 Periods”, chronologically, showing that this school’s notion of absolute truth is the most recent doctrines of the Buddha. It views all the other schools as building up towards its own. Finally, the Shingon school’s P’an-chiao is based on the claims of Kukai. His P’an-chiao consists of ten hierarchical stages, each of which represents one step towards full understanding, and each step also represents one type of thinking/school of Buddhism. This shows that the Shingon school’s notion of absolute truth, is that absolute truth is discovered through personal development and maturity.

Part II.

Upon arrival in China and Japan, Buddhism went through a period of growth and development. Development in these two areas was more different than similar, because in each place there were different obstacles to overcome. In China, Buddhism gained its popularity with the lower classes, and slowly filtered up to the aristocracy. When it arrived in China, China already had its own fully established culture, and the aristocrats didn’t feel that they needed anything new. There was also a language barrier, since the monks bringing Buddhism from India didn’t know Chinese, and the Chinese didn’t know Indian languages. It took a long time for proper translations of scripture and doctrine to be made. Buddhism didn’t take hold until Confucianism began to fail, and then Buddhism was modified to fill the morals and values that the society was already permeated with. Emphasis was placed on being a productive member of society, rather than renouncing society. Institutions developed which were communities of self-supporting monks and nuns. They worked for their keep, and storehoused grain for their communities. The Church came under control of the State, which meant is had outside support and was able to sustain itself and become an economic power.

In Japan, Buddhism didn’t face the challenge of competing with a powerful established tradition like Confucianism. It won favour with one aristocratic clan, and was adopted and absorbed and assimilated. Emphasis was placed on elaborate rituals and ceremonies for court. Japanese rulers embraced Buddhism, established many Buddhist institutions, and Prince Shotaku even wrote a lot of commentary on Buddhist sutras. Japan didn’t have the language problem that China did, since those who brought Buddhism to Japan came from China, and were fluent in both languages. The Taika Reforms of 645 CE exempted everyone but the ruling “in group” from private title to land, and also exempted the “in group” from taxes forever. As the Nara period began, this led to the development of private estates being donated by aristocrats to the Church, so that they could have a place to retire to when they left court, where they could still have power by being an official in the monastery. The Buddhist Church grew very strong and wealthy, and remained above the power of the imperial government.

Part III.

Although the Zen school has roots in the older Madhyamaka and Vijnanavada schools of Buddhism, it is more different than similar to them. Foremostly, Zen emphasises practise above all else, while these other schools focus on practise while simultaneosly developing elaborate doctrine. In general, Zen accepts the doctrine held by the other two schools. What causes it to be dramatically different, though, are its unique notions that aren’t found in the other schools, and also its emphasis on practise. The Zen school holds the notion of “mind to mind transmission of the dharma”, while the other schools believe that the truth revealed by the Buddha was revealed through text. The Zen school also holds the notion that we start out “stuck” on forms, and through meditation and practise, we can get “un-stuck” and recognise both form and emptiness for what they are, and thus become enlightened. Zen practise involves sitting meditation, and also meditating on koans. It also involves the master beating or shouting at his disciples. Huge emphasis is placed on meditation, that by meditating one is not just striving towards enlightenment, but actually partaking in it. This is dramatically different from the other two schools’ notion that meditation is a form of discipline that helps one gradually get to a desired mental state where one can understand the true meanings of the doctrine. Zen is much more dynamic, and much more focused on the individual than on doctrine.

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